Wednesday, January 28, 2009

In defense of Wikipedia

Wikipedia, that much-maligned, online, would-be fount of information has gotten a bad rap from the start. In 2005, author Nicholas Carr critiqued entries on Bill Gates and Jane Fonda as garbage. Even the online encyclopedia's co-founder Jimmy Wales admitted that it has some serious problems with its quality. Part of the problem with Wikipedia as a resource of information stems from what many would-be Wikepedia editors like about it: anyone can edit an article. Last year in an online historical discussion group, the consensus was: stay far away from Wikipedia if you want a real research source.

I'd be with the rest who say don't use it as a resource...if I wasn't a Wikipendian. A Wikipedian is someone who participates in the various Wikipedia-related projects to any extent. My favorite Wikipedia project revolves around the entries about the Nasrid Dynasty.

In the seventeen years of research and writing I did for my Sultana manuscripts, I amassed an incredible amount of information from different sources about my main characters, their rivals and descendants. When I started, the amount of misinformation or the lack of information frustrated me. I had a difficult time accessing materials that were available because they (a) remained under lock and key, untranslated in some far-off mysterious library archive, or (b) existed in some lofty academic research journal that I would have to jump through hoops and obstacles to get. It was easier to sift through the minimal sources I found online to get started and where I found book references that I could buy on Barnes & Noble or, I was in research heaven. Unfortunately, much of any online information about the Nasrid Dynasty is still outdated, with incorrect spellings and dates, bolstered by myths and legends, mixed up in Western fantasies about Orientalism, and just plain and simple, wrong.

Since 2007, I've been working on a Wikipedia project to provide accurate information about the monarchs of the Nasrid Dynasty. I started with simple updates about the lives of the sultans who ruled from 1232 until 1492. Then I started adding entries for the rulers where none previously existed. There are other Wikipedian editors doing the same thing right along with me. It seems we're all operating from the same perspective; making information about a fascinating period of Spanish history, readily accessible to the public.

It is in that goal that Wikipedia needs to be evaluated. Sure, there are scores of people who post information in Wiki articles that are complete fabrications. But some who participate in the project give of their valuable time, share their resources and expand the knowledge base for no other reason than to enrich our understanding. In my editing, I always try to cite corroborating sources, so if there's ever a question about the facts, anyone can go directly to the research materials I've indicated. It's my hope that the articles will become a resource for others who are interested in Nasrid history. I'm happy to play my small part as a Wikipedian.


Anita Davison said...

I avoided Wiki for quite a while too as anyone can upload an article and sometimes the are plain wrong. However I saw a TV documentary about those who work in the back office and check every entry added for autheticity, pulling those which are inaccurate. They are very thorough. Now I do use the site as it supplies information in summary form that can be useful as a stepping off point - but I always check other sources too.

arab world said...

True, I also try to find information about Nasrid dynasty to write my novel but no lack!

this is my blog and I wrote about Lady Asiah

Consuelo Saah Baehr said...

Lisa, I'd be interested to know if there is any crossover between the sultans of Spain and the Turkish Empire.
I did a lot of research on the Sultanates of Turkey right before WWI when the Turks ruled all of Judea. My main interest was Palestine and the area around Jerusalem but I did dip into Turkish history.

Lisa Yarde said...

@Consuelo, I hope that this response will come up, since this post is old. The last of the Sultans of Granada did appeal for help to the Ottoman Empire, but it never came. Morocco, more than any other part of North Africa, benifitted from the defeat of the Moors and their expulsion. At the end, Granada had been so fractured by fighting, the Ottomans would have embroiled themselves in a lost cause. Ferdinand and Isabella capitalized on a kingdom that was already in its death throes. Had Granada been united under one ruler, it might have stemmed the tide. But I, for one, believe the fall was inevitable, even if the Turks has intervened.

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